India is the second largest tea producer in the world. But while its green leaves are on the shelves of every supermarket and tea boutique across the globe, women workers still live under the remnants of a slavery system conceived under British colonialism.
Written by Matilde Gattoni
Here & Now
ea is one of the biggest industries in India, accounting for 14 percent of world tea exports and employing 3,5 million people, the vast majority of them women. Here, managers still roam on horses, dressed in sleek shirts and shorts in homage to old British custom. Yet, just few hundred meters away from their leafy offices, more than 2,000 tea workers have died of malnutrition in the past 15 years, while scores of others have ended up working as stone crushers, maids or prostitutes in a vain attempt to escape misery.
Our mission was to inform readers who are also tea consumers, often people have no idea where their daily products come from and they don’t have the possibility to act accordingly.
I spend more or less six months on the road traveling the world and 6 months editing, looking for stories, pitching to editors. For the past two years I have worked exclusively on personal projects and it requires an incredible amount of time, patience and passion.
Your photo reportages depict highly controversial issues. How does it feel being on the field and documenting all these events and people?
I feel alive. I always wanted to see things with my own eyes, understand humanity. It can be exhausting, rewarding, scary, saddening but really it’s like experiencing 100 lives at the same time.
How do you think being a photojournalist differs from being a photographer?
I think the difference is the social involvement you have as a photojournalist. I also work with corporate clients and I enjoy both experiences and have learned a lot from both but documentary photography is where my heart is.
How do you choose your stories?
I work along with journalist Matteo Fagotto, we work on global issues that help readers make the connection between the outside world, often isolated communities, and us. We have recently created our own agency Tandem Reportages, with the aim to create independent in-depth reportage.
What surprised you the most? Were the workers welcoming and eager to share their lifestyle to thousands, if not to millions of people?
The pluckers were very happy to speak up and be able to tell the world what they are going through, it is a very under reported story and they are not used to seeing journalists around, they really perceived us as messengers. Some asked to remain anonymous and to cover their face for the photographs afraid of the repercussions it might have on them (their boss could fire them for example).
What impact do you think your reportages have on our understanding of certain issues of the world?
When I posted the tea images on the Open Society Foundation Instagram feed a lot of followers started asking more questions, for instance where they could get tea that did not exploit workers, people want to be aware, informed and free to choose accordingly.
How has traveling effected your life? As a photojournalist, how has your perception changed and developed over time?
I started traveling at a very young age, first with my parents and then on my own, traveling has always been part of my life. I’ve lived several years in the Middle East and was born and raised with a double citizenship and culture so opening up to the world was quite natural to me.
Give us an insight, what are the rewards of your profession and tell us about the hardships you come across (if there is any).
This job gives you an excuse to “jump” into people’s lives, sharing their sorrows as well as their happy moments, every time someone lets you into their lives it is a real gift.
Part of the hardships also comes from sharing people’s sorrow, even with time I haven’t learned to distance myself from the stories I cover, you always absorb part of the sadness, and it stays with you forever.